I had the opportunity this past week to be interviewed by ABC News about a new book that provides insight into the infertility experience from the male perspective.
Besides being excited to be given the opportunity (thanks to Barb Collura at Resolve for the heads up), I was fully expecting to read about the progress that has been made since the days when I suffered silently and invisibly through the experience of infertility.
Those expectations were not met in the least.
According to Conceiving Masculinity, men are largely ignored in the treatment process, or coddled so that their fragile egos don’t have to deal with the reality that their biology is simply not up to the task of baby making without medical assistance.
Men continue to believe that infertility is a women’s world, and their role in the process is little more than a DNA provider in a medical protocol.
The article got a lot of likes on Facebook, and a few comments, one of which inspired this post.
Jennifer criticizes Resolve for reinforcing the focus on infertility as being primarily a woman’s issue. While I will admit the bulk of the information on the website is women-centric, I have found that Resolve welcomes the male voice in its infertility awareness efforts.
In fact, my voice has emceed the last two Resolve Walks of Hope in Phoenix. Granted, women probably outnumbered men about 2 to 1 at both events. But I saw hope for an evolution in the infertility world: men and women were side by side during that ½ mile path around the park. It was a team effort.
Infertility is not a women’s issue anymore. It’s couple’s issue. It is an aspiring parent’s issue.
I do agree that men don’t really know their place in the treatment process. I remember those days invisible in the corner of an exam room, startling a nurse of doctor who didn’t realize I was going to be there.
I never had the experience of a doctor candy coating my infertility. Most doctors glossed over the significance of my infertility: only one sperm was needed. As long as I had one good swimmer, medical science could take care of the rest. Maybe this was the version of ‘protecting my ego’ that Liberty Barnes mentions in her research.
I had another reproductive doctor down the road flat out say my sperm were ‘lousy’. This may have been his defensive reaction to my anger at him when our third IVF failed. It certainly didn’t make me feel like my ego was being protected.
I wish before our first procedure, I could have asked another man who had gone through infertility to tell me what to expect. Ask him what he did to support his wife during and after each failed cycle.
Although support groups are absolutely a necessary way to normalize the infertility experience by talking to other couples who are going through the process, I think there has to be something more.
Nothing about the initial consult or protocol meetings really gives the couple a real life, boots on the ground, emotional bullets flying all around accounting of what is about to come. Women can easily find other women who have been through their experience on the myriad of support blogs, websites, support groups, and books written about infertility.
I think the lack of male infertility resources requires a bootcamp approach to infertility for men. The only way to truly prepare a man for the good, the bad and ugly of infertility treatments is a one hour sit down with a male infertility veteran.
They need to know from day one how important their emotional and spiritual contributions are. They are not just sperm donors. Not just check writers. If this isn’t established right at the beginning, the passive aggressive anger kicks in. The detachment from the entire baby making process. The resentment that they are no longer enough to give their wives happiness.
Looking back, I wish I’d had an hour in the room with a male infertility veteran before we began our first infertility treatment protocol. On the job training.
I recently went to work for a large retail banking company. I was flown out to Denver for a week of training…a bootcamp in the complex world of mortgage banking from their perspective, based on their systems, and experiences.
I don’t know that I would have known where to start had I not had that training, because I needed the foundation of knowledge about their systems, protocols, acronyms and expectations.
Men go into the infertility experience without any training. We deny our biology because we are largely ignorant of how it relates to fertility. And Lord knows it is complex as hell to understand all of the terminology, keep up with all the reasons for the protocols, know what to do if something goes wrong, how to deal with insurance companies, and how to keep peace amid the storm, or when to just let it all out.
This is such a sharp contrast with how MUCH women know about their biology and how little men know about theirs. As the hours, days, and months count down to my daughter’s entrance into womanhood, I am amazed at how much my 11 year old knows about her period, ovaries, vagina, and uterus.
At 11 years old, I didn’t have a clue about all that. I have a vague recollection of some discussion about my southern regions, but its relation to fertility was completely foreign to me honestly until I was handed a cup and told to fill its contents for a sperm analysis twenty years later.
Is it any wonder I thought 1 million sperm was plenty to conceive? Sex education was…well…about sex. While I ogled at the cute girls in the class during the 1960s produced films they showed me in 8th grade, I never really put it all together with fertility.
I kind of knew that sex could lead to a baby, but the films were more about the sexual experience, than about making babies. The details of how my biology worked were overshadowed by my insecurities about the odds that any girls would even put me on their ‘like’ list as a brace faced, zit challenged, painfully shy pre-teen.
So back to the infertility veteran boot camp sit down for men entering the battle field of infertility. This meeting should be without his wife there, because most guys won’t honestly process their initial feelings about infertility with their wives in the room. I know because my discussions with husbands at our support groups were far different one on one than they were at a support group for the beginning. With time they opened up, and I have fond memories of a lot of laughter in those meetings as men added their opinions and feelings during their infertility journies.
That male only meeting should be followed by a couple’s consult. Have the newbie couple see the interaction of a veteran infertility couple so they at least have an example of how one couple survived their infertility experience intact.
The other benefit of having the couple’s consult after the initial man only consult is to reinforce the idea that not only are the man and women supported individually, but they are starting their baby making efforts as a team. They will just have a staff of medical professionals in the room when their child is conceived.
If this becomes part of the standard protocol at clinics across the country, then maybe I’ll be able to proudly join Jennifer and her husband at the next advocacy day, joined by hundreds of other COUPLES visiting the steps of Congress, with so many other guys there that they can’t helped but be asked questions about their advocacy and passion for infertility awareness.
All those extra voices and this unified approach might resonate more with the Congressional powers that be the next time we try to get a tax credit passed for couples to get some financial help having a baby.
After all, it is called the Family Act of 2011.